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Trial Scrutinizes NYPD's Handling Of Mentally Ill

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Deborah Danner

As the trial for an NYPD sergeant accused of murdering a mentally ill woman in her Bronx apartment got underway Tuesday, the courtroom was filled with supporters from both sides.

Dozens of parishioners from Episcopal churches which the victim, Deborah Danner, attended, turned out for the trial, as did a few ministers. Danner has joined a knitting group at one of the churches, and helped feed the homeless at another. Reverend Matt Heyd recalled how she would come to forums at Church of the Heavenly Rest, on the Upper East Side, sit in the front row, and ask really tough questions.

"She was really smart and it was obvious to people who knew her," Heyd said.

Reverend Winnie Varghese from Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan said that Danner knew how to make an impression.

"The bishop of New York remembers her as one of the first people he confirmed as a new bishop and remembers her fondly," she said. "And he must confirm hundreds of people every year."

Police were also a strong presence at the trial to show solidarity for the sergeant, Hugh Barry Some wore baseball hats that read #We are Barry. Outside the courthouse, a blue and yellow banner said the same thing.

"We are getting a lot of letters of support from across the nation," said Edward Mullins, President of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the sergeants union, told reporters. "This case has a chilling effect and the nation is watching."

Inside the courtroom on Tuesday, Deborah's sister Jennifer recounted what happened in October 2016, when police were called to Danner's apartment: Jennifer rode the elevator with Sgt. Barry and another officer up to the 7th floor. Barry did not ask her anything about her sister, something prosecutors suggested was a missed opportunity to prepare himself for the encounter.

When police approached the apartment, Jennifer heard her sister sound agitated and stayed behind. After several minutes, Jennifer heard a male voice tell Danner to drop a pair scissors. Within seconds, she heard gunshots. On cross examination, Jennifer acknowledged that during the elevator ride before the altercation, Barry was not angry, or in a rush, but was calm.

Police have said that Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia, swung a bat at the sergeant. After the shooting, Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the sergeant for not waiting for a specialized unit to show up, and for not using his taser.

Barry's also been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Barry opted for a bench trial. Judge Robert Neary of Bronx is hearing the case. The trial resumes Thursday. 

 

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Deborah Danner